Successful engagement with the financial sector key to institutionalising public–private dialogue in Sierra Leone

Over 40 representatives of Sierra Leone’s financial sector came together on 4 August, 2021 to kick off a ground-breaking series of sectoral public–private dialogues (PPD) intended to institutionalise private sector engagement in decision making and feed into Sierra Leone’s first Presidential PPD.

The event was hosted by the National Investment Board (NIB) and the Ministry of Finance with organisational support from Invest Salone – the UK Government-funded private sector development initiative. It was facilitated by Dr Emmanuel Gaima, Presidential Adviser for Governance in the Office of the President. Participants included commercial banks, community banks, insurance companies, and fintech and mobile money companies.

Discussions centred on the game-changing potential of digital financial services (DFS) to enhance access to finance, particularly for the financially excluded and underserved. Participants addressed obstacles to growth within the private sector as well as solutions to policy and regulatory challenges.

Introducing the session, Dr Marda Mustapha, Executive Director of NIB, declared that the meeting heralded a change in how the public sector consults with the private sector: “Past dialogue has been haphazard and informal. Now is the time for action and solutions. By institutionalising PPD, we are creating the environment for sustained and fruitful engagement between the private and public sectors. It is imperative that the private sector organise themselves and prepare for the upcoming Presidential PPD.”

Dr Yakama Manty Jones, on behalf of the Financial Secretary, also lauded the progressive nature of the discussions, and thanked those attending for being part of a “new dawn”. Dr Jones reiterated the government’s renewed focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the private sector’s challenges, opportunities for growth, and pathways to unlock private investment across all sectors: “The Ministry of Finance is fully committed to institutionalising public–private dialogue and supporting better designed and implemented policies and programmes to help Sierra Leone realise its full potential.” Francess Alghali, Minister of State, Vice President’s Office, added: “The discussions today offer an important opportunity to develop workable, home-grown solutions to the sector’s challenges.”

Representing the private sector, Aina Moore, Ecobank MD and President of the Sierra Leone Association of Commercial Banks, detailed solutions to achieving financial inclusion, including the NCRA registration process and the effective registration of SIM cards across the country to drive innovative digital loan products and minimise default. In support of automation of the Credit Reference Bureau, Moore pointed out that it would “reduce turnaround time and support broader access to credit, while weeding out and discouraging credit defaulters.” Capacity building of sector regulators was also recommended for a robust roll-out by all financial sector players of the agency banking framework to bring financial services closer to the people.

The breakout sessions led to a number of productive recommendations, including:

  • Improving collaboration between regulators to save time, reduce costs and facilitate efficient product innovation
  • Identifying opportunities for collaboration between operators in the uptake of DFS
  • Improving the digital financial literacy of users or potential users of DFS.

In his closing statement, Dr Gaima highlighted issues around taxation reviews relevant to the Finance Act 2022, issues around tariffs and premiums, and the constraints on operators’ access to resources for expansion due to the prohibition on lending in foreign currency. He added that the PPD series was all the more significant in the lead up to the first Presidential PPD.

Invest Salone Team Leader Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie summed up the key messages of the dialogue: first, the importance of collaboration – between different private sector actors, between different public sector actors, and between public and private sector actors. Second, the need for incentives to get Sierra Leone to the digital transformation tipping point. And third, the role of early consultations with the private sector in relation to new laws and regulations that affect them.

In his closing remarks, Dr Mustapha assured all participants that the recommendations from the PPD series would be presented at the Presidential PPD, the directives of which will be implemented through a platform with representation from all sectors.

NIB and Invest Salone will follow through the actions agreed on with the help of an operational tracker system.

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